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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Know Your Suicide Squad: The Enchantress

The new Suicide Squad film is fast approaching and, well, I'm not even up-to-speed on the histories of all of the characters on the roster. This article is just as much for myself as it is for you, so hopefully you'll enjoy...

Know your Suicide Squad: The Enchantress

The Enchantress, created by Bob Haney and Howard Purcell, first debuted in 1966's Strange Adventures v1 #187. At this time in DC's publishing history, Strange Tales was a sci-fi/adventure anthology book that usually consisted of 3 or 4 features per issue. Like every other anthology, the features tended to last about 9 pages and were typically self-contained stories that a reader could pick up, read in one sitting and never think about again. Coincidentally, the stories tended to be one-shot tales featuring an 'everyman' character in an extraordinary circumstance (ex: Space Invasion) and how they dealt with it. The series tended to keep it's stories on "the fringe" and away from the mainstream DCU - so no stories featuring Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern or the Flash in here. Interestingly, recurring heroic characters (ex: Animal Man, the Immortal Man) were being introduced to the series around the same time as Enchantress was introduced.

Coined as the 'Switcheroo-Witcheroo', the early Enchantress stories played up the 'sweetly innocent person gets extraordinary powers and leads a double life' trope. In fact, she begins her super-hero career actively trying to help her fellow man. Enchantress had the power to fly, phase through walls, enlarge things, heat things up and, on a whim, change identities from mild-mannered June Moone to the powerful Enchantress. Actually, it's not clear what her powers were - I think she just had whatever power she needed to fit the story at the time. She was a character in an anthology feature during the Silver Age of DC comics, so I don't think too much thought was put into her powers and limitations.

panels from Strange Adventures v1 #187 (1966). Property of DC comics.
Origin: powers by Dzamor

It's not until her third story (Strange Adventures v1 #200, 1967) that we start to see the cracks in her armor: apparently June Moone is jealous of her alter-ego, The Enchantress, since she seems to be getting the affection of Alan [June's love interest]. This is an interesting plot idea to expand on, but would have to be explored at a later time since the Enchantress wouldn't appear in another DC publication until almost 12 years later. Why was the Enchantress' super-hero career cut short? One would assume that like most anthology titles of that era, the only thing that really mattered were sales. Reader response was gauged by fan mail, and if a feature wasn't getting much fan mail and the sales numbers were low when that particular character appeared in an issue, well... that character didn't appear as frequently anymore. [Or, in the case of the Enchantress, nearly a dozen years later.]

...and that concludes the pre-80s portion on the history of the Enchantress, now onto our favorite subject matter - the Enchantress during the 80s:

Written by Jack C Harris and edited by Julius Schwartz, the Enchantress re-appears in Superman Family #204 - 205 (1980) to battle Supergirl. A quick back-and-forth dialogue between the two indicates that Supergirl has previously known of the Enchantress and her mystical powers, and Supergirl goes on to question the Enchantress about her "turnabout" from fighting against evil. After a quick origin recap (that remains more or less the same as the original), it's revealed that the battle was necessary in order for the Enchantress to obtain power for the 'greater good'. This was all misguided of course, and Supergirl thwarts her. The Enchantress swears revenge on Supergirl and a new Supergirl villain is born. But wait! There's more...

The Enchantress is the red head in the green gown on the cover of DCP #77, apparently someone messed up the coloring. She is corrected on the cover of DCP #78

DC Comics Presents issues #77 and #78 have the Enchantress and a few other revived Silver Age DC villains (aka: The Forgotten Villains) battling Superman and the Forgotten Heroes. Written by Marv Wolfman and edited by Julius Schwartz, the Enchantress is a lot nastier now and shows no reservations about reducing a fool to a protoplasmic state should they provoke her. (Animal Man also expresses surprise that the Enchantress is now a villain.) Along with the new attitude comes a new look: no longer a brunette wearing a green witch/sorceress costume, she's going for something more 'elegant':

panels from DC Presents v1 #77 (1985). Property of DC comics.

A few readers wrote in to DC Comics Presents to express their joy that the Enchantress was back in comics, but disappointment that she was now a villain.

It should probably be noted that, of the 80s issues we've just reviewed, the only published Enchantress stories during this era appeared in Julius Schwartz-edited titles. Why that means something: Superman and Supergirl during the Schwartz-era were pretty much God-like (in the aforementioned Supergirl/Enchantress story, Supergirl effortlessly kicks the moon out of alignment) and it was getting more and more difficult to find ways to endanger them for the sake of the story. Unless they were up against a magical-based villain. Superman and Supergirl's only weakness was magic. The Enchantress may have been converted to a villain moreso for convenience (versus having to create an original mystical villain from scratch). Did DC have any other potential plans for the Enchantress? Why, yes. Yes they did...

In an interview with Jack C. Harris, the DC Women Kicking Ass tumblr blog asked Harris about a pitch he and Trevor Von Eeden made to DC editorial about an all female team back sometime in the late 70s/early 80s. The team was to be called "The Power Squad" and would feature Supergirl, Batgirl, Vixen and the Enchantress. When asked why he'd chosen the Enchantress for the team, Harris replied with "Enchantress was a minor heroine whom I had used as a villain in a few of my Supergirl stories. I liked the mix. I liked the science-based powers of Supergirl and Batgirl, balanced with the supernatural origins of Enchantress and Vixen". You can read the full article here.

In her Who's Who entry (The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe #7, 1985), it's stated that June Moone and the Enchantress swap places when either says "The Enchantress" (similar to Captain Marvel/Billy Batson's "Shazam!"). The entry explains her change in appearance in the DC Presents issues as "the ability to change her own appearance (which she used to great advantage as leader of the Fogotten Villains)." It's also hinted that the Enchantress may have turned on the world after her encounter with Supergirl due to "some undiagnosed mental illness".

I'm going to glaze over her appearance in Crisis on Infinite Earths #12 (1986) - I had to look very hard for her, and it ended up just being a side-profile head-shot. If it makes you feel any better, she's back to being a brunette dressed as a witch again.

Now we've moved onto 1987's Legends - the mini-series best known for introducing us to Task Force X/Suicide Squad. Legends #3 gives us a full glimpse of the Enchantress (looking more fashionable than ever, I might add). At some point during team introductions Rick Flag nonchalantly mentions that the Enchantress joined the squad for *other* reasons (indicating that she's not a criminal who's trying to attain a reduced prison sentence). It is also stated in the Legends mini-series it that the Enchantress has 'complete mastery over all things inorganic',  and the reader is introduced to the idea that she's a little nuts and can 'snap' at any minute.

panels from Legends #3 (1987). Property of DC comics.

This leads us directly to the ongoing Suicide Squad v1 series (1987) written by John Ostrander. Why was the Enchantress chosen to be part of the team? Well, I don't know for certain, but I do know that editor Robert Greenberger (who previously worked on Who's Who and The DC Challenge) was combing through the DCU for lesser-known character to use in the book, Ostrander gave his opinions on Greenberger's picks, and the Suicide Squad cast was fleshed out from there. I'm not giving you the play-by-play of what happens in these Suicide Squad issues (since Jason Brown already does such a great job of it), but I will say that - as far as character development goes - Ostrander really gives the Enchantress a lot of attention during the first sixteen issues of this series. [A major sub-plot in the beginning of this book is the idea that the Enchantress is so crazy, powerful and uncontrollable that she might compromise the missions - ensuing some pretty disastrous contingency plans on the squad's behalf and adding more drama/tension to the already volatile Suicide Squad.]

panels from Suicide Squad v1 #8 (1987). Property of DC comics.

A few changes that Ostrander brings to the character: the idea that the Enchantress and June Moone are actually two separate personalities, both personas are aware of and hate the other one [it is revealed that June joins the Squad in hopes of finding a way to 'keep her evil self in check'], that June is co-dependent of her Enchantress persona, and that the Enchantress gets crazier/harder to control every time June summons her.

panels from Suicide Squad v1 #5 (1987). Property of DC comics.

About half-way through Ostrander's treatment of the character, she makes an appearance in The Spectre v2 #11 (1988). June Moone is summoned to meet with the rest of the DC mystical heavy-hitters, and at some point her Enchantress persona goes berserk and all of the other DC heroes need to rally together to stop her. I'm not sure what the point of her inclusion in this Millennium tie-in was - just to demonstrate how powerful she was? did DC have bigger plans for the Enchantress as a DC mystical character? At the time, both The Spectre v2 and Suicide Squad v1 were being edited by Robert Greenberger and sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Ostrander's concluded his "The-Enchantress-is-a-psychotic-time-bomb" sub-plot with a new insight into the character's origin. It was revealed in Suicide Squad v1 #15 (1988) that the Enchantress was meant to be a force for good in some grand battle plan in the 'Nightshade Dimension'- a merging of 'The Succubus' and a human host - but the overpowering evil nature of 'The Succubus' corrupted the human host (which goes to explain the Enchantress' turning to evil). There's also some relation with Nightshade and her brother (he's the 'The Incubus', btw), and the story arc ends with June Moone losing the Enchantress persona/powers and Nightshade somehow getting the Enchantress' powers as a result of all this. This all creates a major link between the Enchantress, Dhazmor, Nightshade and the 'Nightshade Dimension'. Nightshade was getting a revamped origin around this point in the DCU, so this all tied together nicely. If you've read this far into the article, I'm going to SPOIL the resolution of all this: June Moone, feeling the 'separation anxiety' of no longer having her Enchantress persona, tries to (unsuccessfully) shoot and kill Nightshade in the hope of getting her powers back.[Mouse over text to view]

It would be nearly another decade until the Enchantress would re-appear again - this time in 1999's Superman: The Man of Tomorrow #13. 1999 is a bit out of our domain of expertise [we'll go as far as 1993, maybe], so on that note we're going to leave you with a few links to a few other articles that may capture your attention:

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